Do read the Straits Times report on March 23, 1985, when Lee Kuan Yew as prime minister told parliament why ministers’ salaries had to go up. Click on the link to go to the page.
This is Lee Kuan Yew at the top of his form, using facts, figures and personal anecdotes to back up his argument in a memorable speech. There are no purple patches here, just the clipped precision of a pukka sahib.
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Perhaps, he spoke all the better because he was rebutting another sahib, JB Jeyaretnam. Note the exchange between the two men.
“I think I have brought up a family which has a better sense of proportion as a result of living in Oxley Road,” says Lee, explaining why he used his official residence, Sri Temasek, only for entertainment.
“You’ve got guards,” interjects JB.
“Alas, I wish I could do without them,” retorts Lee. “They only came with separation in 1965. I had no guards before that. I get no joy out of having these guards.”
He sounds so English!
I came upon this piece while going through the National Library digital newspaper archive, trying to find out when Singapore ministers and MPs started getting highly paid.
My curiosity was piqued by a London School of Economics study, mentioned in an earlier post, which said that Lee Kuan Yew, in his early days as PM, drew a salary of S$3,500 a month.
So I searched the archives and found this report.
Lee points out how poorly paid he was as PM. Referring to a table, he says:
… you will see that the best paid are bankers at S$140,000 a month; next, architects, S$125,000; then lawyers, S$116,00; and the lowest-paid are car-dealers, at S$32,000 (the table shows the PM’s salary at S$29,317 a month).
So I could improve my luck by becoming a car-dealer…
Note the barbed remark.
He goes into history:
… immediately after we came to office, we cut ministers’ pay by S$450. I cut my own pay to S$3,050 and it stayed cut for 2 1/4 years till September ’61 when we restored it.
In 1970, when the first year of recession was over, after the ’68 withdrawal of the British forces… everybody had an increase except the Prime Minister. Deputy Prime Minister, S$4,500; Chief Justice, S$3,500; Speaker, S$3,000; ministers, S$4,500, and so on.
But I stayed at S$3,500 because I was nervous that the ground may misread the signal and wage restraint is thrown overboard by the unions and before we had really absorbed the full impact of unemployment, they would be on the rocks.
It was only in 1973 that a full adjustment was made – the Budget for ’73 when I went up to S$9,500.
So the generation that knows my colleagues and I (grammar!), I don’t have to prove anything.
But perhaps for the younger generation, I ought to mention that I do not believe Singapore is wise in demanding of my younger colleagues that same total, absolute dedication to a cause.
There is very little now that money can do for my senior colleagues and I (grammar!)
Incidentally, there’s a book that takes its title from that use of “I”. It’s called Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. It makes grammar fun.
The author, Patricia T O’Conner, has a blog called The Grammarphobia Blog. Check it out.